Benjamin and His Fathers
With an afterword by Peter Härtling

A major rediscovery of a modern classic.

Benjamin Weis is born in Frankfurt in 1919, the son of single mother Anna, an assistant at a law firm. His father is nowhere to be found. Fritz Bernoulli, a lawyer, takes the young family under his wing, providing them with accommodation and board. Despite his difficult circumstances, Benjamin grows up sheltered, immersed in a world of Don Quixote and Robinson Crusoe, going on adventures great and small with his friends. Since his mother only ever answers evasively when questioned about his father, Benjamin keeps inventing new ones.

Heckmann depicts a vivid panorama of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, from the perspective of a child whose questions mostly go unanswered. Why is his surrogate father accused of treason? Why does nobody step in when an alleged communist is beaten up on the street? Why does his Jewish friend have to emigrate to America?

Benjamin's mother is killed on the way to a mythical assignation with Benjamin's natural father, and Benjamin is officially adopted by Fritz. Eventually, Benjamin learns who his father really was, and who he is himself.

BENJAMIN AND HIS FATHERS was previously published (rights reverted) in France (Juillard, 1964), Italy (Garzanti, 1965) and the US (Knopf, 1964).

Reviews

»Heckmann's Benjamin is blessed with astonishing empathy and exuberant imagination.«
Rheinpfalz

»In the face of a broken future, this novel searches for resistance in the tenderness of ambivalence. The publication of BENJAMIN UND SEINE VÄTER is timely: Heckmann offers us an opportunity to think, write and read about what it means to acknowledge humanity despite the violent sheen of ideology.«
new books in german

»Heckmann tells his story with great love for his characters and for detail.«
Deutschlandradio Kultur

»A journey through time to the vibrant and idyllic old Frankfurt. Incidentally but in a very powerful way the author describes how National Socialism changed lives.«
Hessischer Rundfunk

»A hilarious, highly recommended book.«
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»A wonderful novel.«
Frankfurter Rundschau

»A panorama of the twenties and thirties in Germany.«
Hessenschau


Original Language

German, Schöffling

Available Material

German pdf
English translation

Awards

  • World Book Night 2016 title

Herbert Heckmann

Born in 1930 in Frankfurt am Main, Heckmann was a teacher and writer. His comprehensive body of work includes stories, novels, children’s books and cookbooks. He was co-editor of the magazine Neue Rundschau, a freelancer for Hesse Radio, president of the German Academy for Language and Literature, a professor at the University of Art and Design in Offenbach am Main and has sat on numerous juries. He died in 1999 in Bad Vilbel.